With high tech security measures becoming the norm, you'd think we'd be a lot safer.
From smartphones to smart cars to smart hotels, the market for interconnectivity has never been higher. The ability to control the majority of one's home from an app– everything from the thermostat to the alarm system– is ubiquitous. There are definitely benefits to this tech; speed, comfort etc.- but are our attempts to make everything smart leaving us vulnerable?
When it comes to smart homes, the technologies involved can vary, but more often than not they're centered on security. Some using motion-sensing technology to automatically turn on cameras. Others contain sensors for all types of issues including flood water, burglary, smoke, and carbon monoxide. The requisite paranoia required to purchase one of these systems aside, there is a growing concern that these security programs can be hacked and easily monitored by would-be burglars. While self-driving cars are still a work in progress (Uber just killed a woman with one of theirs), hackers were able to shut down security features on a Jeep and prove how connected utilities are just as easy to hack as anything else connected to the Internet. The same principle can applied smart homes.
Alexa and her hackable friends
On one end of the hacking spectrum, you have a previous home's owner. There are currently no standards in place to prevent a seller from having access to their old home's smart features. This means the flickering of your lights and the constant opening and closing of your home's garage door could be part of a prank by the last person living in your house. This can also leave home owners vulnerable to burglary, though the police would probably have an easy time cracking that case. Burglary is more likely to occur from an outside force, one that you haven't met and agreed to purchase a house from. That said, tech savvy burglars could have just as easy a time robbing you while you're at work or on a vacation.
Direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks have been used to disrupt the Internet connection for entire corporations, and can now, via the Internet of Things (IoT), be accomplished with ordinary devices such as TVs and washing machines. When these devices were designed, many of the companies hectically released them without putting much thought into their (the devices) security. There are now over six billion everyday items connected to the Internet, with IoT spending to hit around 1.7 trillion by 2020. But how and why would burglars perform cyber attacks on smart homes, when it'd be just as easy to break a window wearing facemasks and steal as much as they can carry before the police arrive? While burglars could perform DDoS attacks on homes and shutdown security systems, this could raise suspicions, as homeowners might notice that their cameras and motion sensors aren't working. Burglars can however, hack into less obvious devices and use them as a means of surveillance, casing their target at a safe distance. Recently, it was discovered that the MyQ garage door system could be hacked and used to spy on homeowners, alerting hackers when the door opens and closes, and giving them the ability to reopen the door after residents leave. This sort of thing is much more useful to burglars performing smash and grab robberies and makes it far too easy for robbers to keep track of a homeowner's schedule.
New security systems are at risk.
So, what can you do?The fact of the matter is, smart homes are no more or less secure than regular homes. If someone is dedicated to robbing your house, they're going to find a way to get the job done. That said, smart homes do provide a baseline of coverage against standard, non-tech savvy burglars and having visible cameras on the outside of your house can be a serious deterrent. If none of the devices in your house are smart though, it might be worth it to wait until cyber-security measures become standard before buying that new app-controlled washer. As for alarm systems, at this point the old school systems that alert the police department via a landline rather than the Internet are far safer and effective. Like anything though, it's important to do your research before buying.
Studies indicate that much of the tech company's success is predicated on the way in which it skirts labor laws.
Uber and Lyft drivers may only be making $3.37 an hour according to a new study conducted at MIT. The study, which surveyed over 1,100 drivers, combined "self-reported revenue, mileage and vehicle choices" with "detailed vehicle operational cost parameters for insurance, maintenance, repairs, fuel and depreciation" in order to come up with an estimation of median take home income. The original results of this study were immediately contested by Uber, with Uber's analyst citing several instances of survey bias and misleading questions as the company's chief complaints.
Presumably under pressure from the tech giant, the researchers adjusted their findings and determined that drivers make closer to $8.55 an hour in pretax income. Although this figure implies that drivers are making more than the federal minimum wage ($7.25), the study also concluded that 54% of drivers are making less than their state's minimum wage. On top of this, the study also shows that 8% of drivers are actually losing money by working for Uber. This paper, written by Stephen Zoepf, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University, has been released at a time when Uber and Lyft are facing backlash for their questionable labor practices. After releasing his second study, Zoepf was slammed again, this time by Uber's CEO, and accordingly adjusted his findings a second time. Zoepf arrived at the same median wage, but in his revised version, only 41% of drivers made less than their state's minimum wage and only 4% were losing money. Still, it's certainly worth noting, if only to relay Uber's economic power, how much they were able to sway this study despite arguing from a clearly biased position.
Presently, Uber operates, through what can only be described as a classification loophole, as an e-commerce company, not a transportation company. While this is changing in Europe, in America, Uber is not liable for the vehicles that their drivers put on the road. In fact, Uber's drivers, despite a long-fought battle to change this, are not technically employees. They're independent contractors and aren't entitled to the same rights and benefits as full-time workers. Uber drivers have to insure themselves, don't get unemployment, and have to maintain their vehicles at their own expense. The freedom to set one's own hours, Uber's major perk, isn't particularly unique either. Depending on the company they work for, New York drivers who lease their cabs from the Taxi and Limousine Commision are often afforded a similar luxury.
The bottom line is, Uber's service model isn't particularly unique, and there isn't really anything fundamentally different about an Uber-X than a cab. The company prides itself on its ability to disrupt the marketplace, but the reality is, Uber's greatest asset is that it was started in 2009, at the height of the App craze. When it was first introduced, the idea of pushing a button on your phone and hailing a cab was novel, it was cool. But in 2018, almost ten years later, the novelty has worn off. There are innumerable buttons to push. If you like the color pink, use Lyft. Hitch-a-Ride is teal. Even NYC taxi drivers have their own app now. That said, Uber's staying power is a testament to two things: one,the value of being first. And two, Being the cheapest option available makes it pretty easy to stay in business.
With regard to the latter however, Uber's ability to undercut traditional taxi services is predicated on their poor labor practices and the resultant low overhead. With that in mind, Stephen Gandel, published a piece in 2015 on the estimated cost Uber would incur if it were to formally employ its workers (in the US). With all things considered, Gandel came up with the number 4.1 billion dollars, or roughly 10% of Uber's total valuation. This was published three years ago, when Uber's reported 160,000 US-based drivers. By the end of 2015 they had doubled to 327,000 drivers. Uber also hit one million drivers worldwide in 2015. Since Gandel's report was based only on the 160,000 US-based drivers at the start of 2015, it's tough to say exactly what it would cost Uber to properly employ all of its workers, but we can infer that it'd be a pretty hefty, potentially devastating fee.
It would seem that if Uber continues losing lawsuits, its viability as a company could be in trouble. And, despite Europe taking the lead on securing employee status for Uber drivers, it would take a major societal shift in the way Americans view labor for any concrete change to truly happen here. Still, if Americans are looking for a perfect example of corporate greed, they need look no further than their favorite ride-sharing app.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff